So often, we are told that politics and bars don’t mix. But can a bar affect positive change in the political sphere? One Queens bar owner aims to empower his neighbors to run for office and champion the candidates that he feels strongly and passionate about. His hope is to represent in political office the demographics of the community in which his bar exists.
Queens is known as “the world’s borough.” It is one of the largest melting pots of demographics in the world—yet the representation doesn’t always illustrate that point. A quick look at the Queens Economic Development Corporation shows over twice the number of men than women who hold elected office. The Top Ten Elected Officials in Queens are somewhat close to showing how diverse the populace is, but that itself is a relatively recent development. Nick’s views have more than anything allowed his space to be a base in which to talk about policies and empower his consumers on how just to simply get involved.
Early last year, Nick Elezovic was running errands for Diamond Dogs, the bar he owns with his brother in Astoria, Queens. He was listening to NPR while he pushed his granny cart around town when a woman came on to talk about her new book, Represent: The Woman’s Guide To Running For Office And Changing The World. The book was written in the wake of the 2016 election by actress June Diane Raphael and former EMILY’s List Chief of Staff and current federal government policy advisor, Kate Black. The book acts as a resource, a source of empowerment, and a workbook to answer questions about running for and holding office. Throughout the interview, Nick was struck by the statistics that women tend to see themselves as under-qualified and would put off running for any office, no matter how local, while men don’t consider the qualifications and throw themselves into campaigns.
Later on that evening, Nick called his girlfriend to explain how inspired he was listening to the program and how motivated he was to take action. “I imagined her eye roll as she said ‘So, you wanna go into politics now?’ My reply? ‘No, I’m an old white dude. We need to get rid of all the old white dudes in politics.’”
Diamond Dogs is no stranger to fostering local candidates. Two years ago, they hosted a meet-and-greet for Rafael Espinal, who was later responsible for repealing the outdated cabaret law (Prohibition laws that banned dancing and entertainment in food-and-drink spaces) in NYC. “We are a progressive safe-space that most of our customers understand and appreciate. We support our favorite DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) candidates, in addition to other progressive candidates.”
The bar also “rallied hard” for Tiffany Cabán for Queens District Attorney. Nick says, “she has consistently maintained a focus on criminal justice reform and decriminalizing sex work. After having a solid lead, she narrowly lost to former Queens borough president Melinda Katz by about a few dozen votes. The “every vote counts” mantra proved so true in this case. One positive takeaway was seeing such a large swath of western Queens voting for progressive values. I felt extremely proud of our community looking at that map.”
Nick continues, “Evie Hantzopoulos has also been a growing progressive presence in the bar’s Queens community. Like the Represent book suggests, Evie started small, getting involved with her local PTA boards for several years, which led her to be appointed to Community Board 1 representing Astoria for the past decade. She has spent a lot of time during the recent pandemic getting hot meals to the underprivileged families in our community. She is the total boots-to-the-ground community champion we need.”
Nick promptly ordered 50 copies of Represent from a Connecticut-based bookseller he’s been a long-time patron of. He affixed bright pink post-it notes on each book, proclaiming “free to a good home! #thefutureisfemale xoxo” and began putting them one at a time by the bar’s front door. By the time Covid-19 shut down bars in NYC, two of the books had already found their way to good homes.
“I was sick and tired of feeling powerless,” says Nick. “I felt like I had to do something. I needed a positive outlet to counteract the negative energy that was eating me up. It just felt right to start within my own community to try and send some good vibes out there into the world.”
During shut-down, Nick went to Diamond Dogs to work on various repairs. Every day he would put a copy of Represent on a little table in front of their closed, unmarked storefront. “One afternoon, this older Irish lady picked it up, looking at it while trying to make heads or tails of what the hell our storefront is. I peeked my head out the door to let her know how happy I was that she was taking it and planning to use it. She was puzzled about what our place was and had some questions. When I explained it all to her, she pleasingly stated that she wanted the book for her daughter. She then asked me how she could repay the favor. I told her to have her daughter pass the book along to a friend when she was done with it and keep the cycle going. She then proceeded to tell me in her lovely accent with a bit of a crack in her voice how I had made her day. That single interaction made this all worthwhile for me.”